Take care of your physical health, and don't sweat the small stuff!
When the alarm goes off at 5AM I know I have to get up right away. Even a second of dozing off is a second too long of lost time. The day takes off from there and does not stop until my head hits the pillow at bedtime. “Stop the world, I want to get off,” I want to shout, but who has time?
This gets me thinking, in an effort to live life to the fullest, are we all overdoing it? Perhaps, but when I signed up to be a working mother no one explained that while you can have it all, there is a price to pay. After all, nothing in life is free, right? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 I remember my initial reaction being not of fear or sadness, I knew I was a strong woman who would beat it; no, I was annoyed. Annoyed because it meant that I would have to slow down just a bit to make time for chemo, then surgery, then recovery. Even then, I pushed it. I snuck into my office a week and a half after surgery (I was supposed to be out for three weeks) because the stress of being away was just too overwhelming.
Okay, so maybe I take things a little bit to the extreme (yes, just a tad) but if you are the average working mom, research study after research study reflects that you are at higher risk for health problems, especially heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. One Harvard researcher even found that the spouses of working women are also affected; they too suffer higher stress level than the spouses of non-working women. Hey, nothing like sharing the wealth, huh? Of course these findings just highlight that when women work, their spouses need to step up participation in the work/home balance. In addition, stress, begets stress. When you are living with someone who is always stressed out it is hard not to feel the pressure.
So, are there solutions? Of course, however, if you are a working mom with barely any time to breathe, the thought of following through on the some of the solutions is enough to stress you out thinking about how you can find the time! As a big believer in practicing what I preach, I recently made a committed effort to reduce my own stress levels, I am happy to report that when I took on this task with the vehemence with which I live the rest of my life, it worked. I still have a full life filled with commitments from sun rise to sunset (it is 5am as I write this) but, I have learned to de-stress and let things go.
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In an effort to avoid telling you what you must do to reduce your own stress (and thereby decrease health risks) I offer you the solutions that have truly worked for me and a host of my friends and family whom I turned to for effective suggestions and solutions:
Exercise it off. There is nothing like the feeling of getting your body moving. Running works for me. It allows me to get lost in my own thoughts while working off all the pent up frenetic energy and stress I carry around on an average day. I find that when I start my day with a workout it really helps. On days when time is limited, I shorten my workout but I try not to cut it out. It is one priority that truly makes me feel the good the whole day. In addition, there is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you started your day this way.
Avoid eating junk food. I work in an environment which is truly a junk food junkie’s dream! There is always some sort of sweet or high caloric snack available in our break room. When you live life on the run you often feel like you need that quick fix to make you feel better and help you cope. That one moment of sugar and carb bliss, however, can quickly come back to make you feel like you are going to crash and burn. I have recently taken to packing a bag of heart healthy snacks for work. I rarely have time for a sit down lunch and I am a ‘nosher’ by nature. To feel good and satiated I stock my office with healthy choices like apples, berries, bananas, and when I need to overcome that urge to crunch, I turn to carrots instead of chips. I can honestly tell you that it has helped me look and feel better.
Let it go. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. I know it is such a cliché but they can truly be words to live by if you try. By going with the flow and letting the small injustices at work and on occasion home go, I feel calmer and less stressed. Why waste precious time and energy on some things? Sometimes it is not about being right, it is just about being.
Discuss it when you must. Research on stress indicates that when you bottle things up and spend excessive time perseverating about them, you increase your level of stress. There are times when you are better off bringing concerns to the forefront. The key is not what you say but how you say it. It has been my experience that when there were situations or policies that were creating undue stress for me, I was not alone. When you come to the table with possible solutions or remedies, you have already fought half the battle. You demonstrate that you are not simply expressing concerns (or complaints) but invested in generating solutions.
Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. There are times when we all have to deal with situations we wish we could change When you put your energy into negotiating the system in your favor instead of working against it you are usually better served. The satisfaction you will experience of having worked it out is sure to replace the stress of feeling stuck.
Just Do it! Of course you don’t have time for yourself; sometimes you just need to take it! I have learned to make relaxing activities such as getting a mani and a pedi a priority. I used to feel guilty when I asked my husband to take charge of the kids' activities for an hour or two but now I realize the benefits. When you don’t take time for yourself you can start to feel stressed and even irritable. You not only help yourself when you take the time, but you help those around you. After all, you are no fun when you are grumpy or frustrated.
What I have proposed is certainly not brain surgery. I can only assure you that these are solutions that can work. While I may not be Ghandi, I at least feel more refreshed and centered than I used to.
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